Jo Nesbo – The Kingdom

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The Kingdom is a stand-alone thriller about two brothers, Roy and Carl Opgard, who live on a mountain farm near a sleepy Norwegian village and whose lives are tied together by dark secrets. There is an undercurrent of barely contained malice among the principal characters and as you’d expect from Nesbo the book does revolve around a series of murders. However, I will keep this post free of any major spoilers.

When their parents die in a car accident, teenage Roy is left as protector to his impulsive younger brother using his fists when necessary and gaining a reputation as a taciturn thug while Carl plays the field with the local girls. Roy finds work as a mechanic with his uncle and Carl goes to North America. Roy is left behind to look after the ‘kingdom’ and live peacefully as a successful petrol station manager.

Carl returns some years later with a new wife, Shannon, a pale red-haired woman with roots in Barbados. She has one droopy eye and a large amount of feistiness. She is an architect who will help Carl to build a mountain spa hotel on their family land. Carl promises to make Roy rich along with the rest of the villagers, who he convinces to become investors in the project.

As the book progresses we learn about Roy and Carl’s affairs with various women in the village, what really happened to their parents and why, why Carl really came back from North America, and how Roy always seems to want what Carl has got despite him being the younger sibling.

Anyone expecting any strong female characters will be disappointed. Shannon is the only one who comes close but she is painted as a rather typical femme fatale ultimately driving a wedge between the brothers. The other women in the village are rather two-dimensional and Nesbo spends far more time writing about the desires and motivations of the male villagers. In fact this bias is most noticeable when Roy, who is the book’s narrator, talks about his mother. She is so tied to their dominant and abusive father that she is somewhat of a footnote in his demise.

The Kingdom lacks the pace of Nesbo’s Harry Hole books and could have been between 100-200 pages shorter without losing any of the layers of secrecy, cover ups and mysteries. The revelations and final twist are also rather easier to guess than his usual books. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, Nesbo is a great writer and it was nice to read something from him that wasn’t a Harry Hole thriller, and to see a story from a criminal’s point of view.

However, I feel impelled to mention here my biggest bugbear in the book, and that is the incessant repetition of the phrase ‘as people say.’ I lost count of how many times this is used – it must have been at least fifteen times if not more. I don’t know if this is some quirk of the translation from Norwegian, but it became very irritating.

I know as human beings we all have phrases we over use, for example I say ‘for want of a better word’ more times than is healthy when I am stumbling over my tongue and can’t find the word I want quick enough. But I wouldn’t use the phrase in a book and certainly wouldn’t keep repeating it in my writing. It’s very strange. Almost like Nesbo had a bet with someone how many times he could get it in.      

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